Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Bob's Books Read in 2010

Here's my take on the best books I've read in 2010 (July 1, 2010)

American Sucker tells how author, David Denby (Great Books) was captured by greed and manic belief that the stock market offered easy opportunities for unlimited prosperity. Denby sunk his family’s funds in NASDAQ stocks, became addicted to CNBC and the Wall Street Journal, lost his balance in the excess of the time-stock tickers in strip clubs; then lost his money when the market crashed. Denby nearly suffered a nervous breakdown when his wife of 18 years left him, and making enough money to buy out her share of their apartment was his initial motivation for investing in the market. Denby details his decline, from a night of impotence to a six-month obsession with Internet porn. “His dissection of his own Upper West Side narcissism offers some of the most candid critiques of the Manhattan bourgeoisie ever found outside of a Woody Allen film.”

*The Anatomy of Deception by Lawrence Goldstone is a medical thriller set in 1889 Philadelphia. The narrator is Ephraim Carroll, a young, idealistic and somewhat naïve doctor, who works alongside William Osler, often described as the father of modern medicine. Carroll is troubled when Osler forgoes an autopsy of a woman without explanation. Carroll's curiosity is further piqued after George Turk, a colleague who also seemed unsettled by Osler's actions, dies, apparently of cholera. When Turk's autopsy reveals trace amounts of arsenic, Carroll's suspicions of foul play are confirmed. Goldstone artfully integrates a manuscript the actual Dr. Osler wrote and ordered sealed for half a century after his death. This is top-notch historical page-turner that captures the era, the power of social class and the evolution of medical practice.

Replay by Kim Greenwood is a fantasy about Jeff Winston, a failing 43-year-old journalist, who dies and wakes up in his 18-year-old body in 1963 with his memories of the next 25 years intact. Jeff's knowledge becomes both a curse as a blessing. After recovering from the shock (is the future a dream, or is it real life?), he plays out missed choices with differing levels of frustration. Not an original theme, but developed in a thoughtful, engaging manner.

*Solar by Ian McEwan received mixed reviews. The protagonist, physicist Michael Beard, won a Nobel Prize several years ago and has been resting on his laurels ever since. A serial cheater, he is now married to his fifth wife, who leads a totally separate life, indicating her complete disdain for his wandering eye. An accidental death which he covers up, a politically incorrect statement before a professional audience, and his usurpation of research ideas from a deceased ‘post doc’ are part of his disintegrating character. Beard is a despicable, but modestly charming, character. The book blends interesting insights into scientific research, climate change, the press, aging and egoism.

Mennonite in a Simple Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen got great reviews, “an intelligent, funny, wonderfully written memoir.” I didn’t see it—maybe it is a ‘chick’ thing. Her 15-year relationship with Nick ends when he leaves her for someone he met on “” She comes to recognize her co-dependent role in their marriage (even as she tweaks the 12 steps just a bit). She moves back in with her Mennonite parents and “looks at her childhood religion with fresh, twinkling eyes.” One reviewer gushes “… women will immediately warm to the self-deprecating honesty”—but maybe not guys.

*The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine is an ‘Austenesque’ novel about three women figuring out how to survive and thrive in ‘exile.’ Betty Weissman is 75 when her husband announces he's divorcing her. She moves out of their grand CPW apartment and the conniving girlfriend moves in. Betty lands in a rundown Westport, Conn., beach cottage, but things quickly get more complicated when Betty's aging daughters run into their own problems and move in with her. “It's a smart crowd pleaser with lovably flawed leads…the literary version of a delectable desert”

Siege by psychologist Stephen White has the Yale campus as the site of a unique act of terrorism. Unidentified attackers take over a building belonging to one of Yale's secret where they hold several students hostage. They seem to make no demands, agree to no negotiations and execute or release hostages depending on their unknown logic. Suspended Boulder, Colo., policeman Sam Purdy eventually teams with maverick FBI agent Christopher Poe and CIA terror expert Deirdre Drake in an effort outside official channels to thwart the creatively conceived plan. “This intellectually challenging and provocative thriller brings home the lesson that 9/11 might have been a mere prelude to more sophisticated assaults.”

The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama by David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker, offers a detailed (almost 700 pages) but boring account of Barack Obama's history. One reviewer called it a “major contribution to the river of Obama books…a sharply honed work of biographical journalism.” I found it 300 pages too long due to the author’s tendency to include any related reference or quote he accumulated. For example, in talking about Obama’s job as a community organization, he adds long references to Hillary Clinton’s senior thesis on Saul Alinsky, Alinsky’s background and how he influenced the person who hired Obama. The subtitle of the book could have been, “More than you ever wanted to know about Obama”—and for me that’s pretty hard to do. A tough editor would have helped.

*Innocent by Scott Turow picks up the characters and personality of his hugely successful Presumed Innocent, 22 years after the events of the earlier book. Former prosecutor Rusty Sabich, now an appellate judge, is again suspected of murdering a woman close to him. His wife, Barbara, died in her bed, apparently of natural cause; Yet Rusty comes under scrutiny from acting Tommy Molto, who unsuccessfully prosecuted him for killing his mistress decades earlier. Tommy's chief deputy, Jim Brand, is suspicious because Rusty chose not to report Barbara's death for almost an entire day, which could have allowed traces of poison to disappear. Rusty's candidacy for a higher court and a recent affair with his attractive law clerk further complicate matters. Turow displays an uncanny ability for making the passions and contradictions of his main characters accessible and believable.

**The Lacuna is Barbara Kingsolver's first ambitious new novel in nine years (after the excellent The Poisonwood Bible). It focuses on Harrison William Shepherd, the son of a divorced American father and a Mexican mother. After getting kicked out of an American military academy after seeing the “bonus army riots”, Harrison spends several years in Mexico in the household of Diego Rivera; his wife, Frida Kahlo; and their houseguest, Leon Trotsky. After Trotsky is assassinated, Harrison returns to the U.S. and settles in Asheville, N.C., where he becomes an author of historical potboilers (e.g., Vassals of Majesty) and is later investigated as a possible subversive. Narrated in the form of letters, diary entries and newspaper clippings, the novel starts slowing, but achieves an emotional peak when Harrison wittily defends himself before the Un-American Activities Committee (the panel includes a young Dick Nixon). I thought Kingsolver subtly wove parallels between the fall of Aztec civilization, the 1930s and 40s (and by implication, our own era). Kingsolver was masterful in resurrecting “a dark period in American history with the assured hand of a true literary artist.”

*The Road by Cormac McCarthy is “profoundly dark, told in spare, searing prose…The Road is a post-apocalyptic masterpiece.” The depressing darkness of the book kept me from reading it for a long time, but it is a powerful book that describes a post-nuclear world with gray skies that drizzle ash, most wildlife is extinct and starvation is nearly all-encompassing. A seriously ill father is walking with his sickly son toward warmer weather but are constantly watching for danger that could come in any form—perhaps one of the bands of cannibals who roam the country-side with pieces of human flesh stuck between their teeth. Anyone who doesn’t want to reduce our nuclear stockpile should be required to read this book.

*Body of Lies by David Ignatius tells the story of idealistic CIA agent Roger Ferris, newly stationed in Jordan after being wounded in Iraq. Ferris, is dedicated to forestalling further al-Qaeda attacks, develops an intricate scheme modeled after a British WWII rouse. Ferris's plot to turn the terrorists against each other by sowing seeds of suspicion that their leaders are collaborating with the Americans puts his personal life in turmoil and threatens his professional relationship with the head of Jordanian intelligence. It may be the best post-9/11 espionage novel, with well-developed characters, intelligent, informed writing and plenty of suspense. Unfortunately, the book’s potential for a great movie wasn’t realized.

A Game of Character by Craig Robinson, presidential brother-in-law, Ivy-League MVP and head coach at Oregon State, takes readers behind the scenes to meet his most important influences in the “winning traits that are part of his playbook for success.” The book is a tribute to his remarkable parents who showed their children to believe in themselves and live their lives with love, discipline and respect and a great recruiting tool for OSU. I suspect Robinson is a great coach and brother, but writing isn’t his greatest strength—but this is a great read for high school basketball players.

*The Condition by Jennifer Haigh follows a dysfunctional New England family as it struggles toward normalcy in a poignant novel from the PEN/Hemingway-winner. We follow the children of resentful, controlling, Paulette and distracted, MIT professor Frank. Billy, the oldest and most successful, keeps a secret about his sophisticated New York life. Scott, the uncontrollable brat of the bunch, sees himself in his own troubled son. Meanwhile, Gwen suffers from a genetic condition that prevents her from developing into womanhood. The story starts slowly but each family member grows and matures as the narrative leads to a surprising and satisfying conclusion.

Caught by Harlan Coben is filled with the tension and unanticipated machinations that have become the author’s trademark. A ‘straight arrow’ high school senior is missing. A reporter on a mission to identify sexual predators via elaborate sting operations targets a social worker known as a friend to troubled teens, but the story soon becomes much more complicated, and sometimes hard to follow. The first half is excellently written with an ending that is surprising and engaging.

Food Rules: An Eater’s Guide by Michael Pollan, perhaps the country’s most trusted food writer offers a simple guide for anyone concerned about health and food. Simple, sensible, and easy to use, Food Rules is a set of 64 memorable guidelines for eating wisely. You can probably read it in an hour, and it might change your eating habits and make you more mindful of the food you eat.

*Freefall: America, Free Markets, and the Sinking of the World Economy by Joseph Stiglitz is a “spirited attack on Wall Street, the free market and the Washington consensus.”As a Nobel Prize winner, and chairman of Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers, Stieglitz has some practical insights on what lead to the “Great Recession and how to prevent the next one. He provides an understandable overview of modern economic theory and “the wrongheaded national faith in the power of free markets to regulate themselves and provide wealth for all.” It is hard to make economics consistently interesting, but Stiglitz comes close and ends with a plea for the original focus of economics as “moral philosophy.”

U is for Undertow by Sue Grafton is set in 1988 when Kinsey takes on a client who claims to have recovered a childhood memory of men burying a suspicious bundle shortly after the unsolved disappearance of four-year-old Mary Claire Fitzhugh in 1972. Chapters told from the point of view of other characters in other time periods add texture, allowing the reader to assemble pieces of the case as Kinsey works on other aspects. A subplot involves Kinsey wrestling with conflicting information about her estranged family. Engaging, but Grafton seems to be tiring of Kinsey.

How the Mighty Fall by Jim Collins is a mediocre book from a great business writer. The book attempts to explain the five step process by which once great firms become obsolete and how they can avoid the downward trajectory. Collins is a brilliant consultant and writer who has done some of the best analysis of business success. This makes this 120 pages of content and 100+ pages of appendices, notes and index, with moments of great insight but a hurried, almost superficial, feel more disappointing than if someone else had dashed this off. Borrow and scan the book, but don’t buy it.

Increment by David Ignatius has been compared to le Carre’s A Spy Who Came in From the Cold, but for my money, is a better read. Harry Pappas, CIA chief of the Iran Operations receives an unsolicited e-mail from an alleged Tehran scientist that implies Iran is continuing its nuclear weapons program and is a threat to global peace and finds an administration bent on a preemptive strike. Pappas, whose only son was killed while serving in the second Iraq War, must somehow identify the scientist, get him out of Iran and mine his knowledge before the U.S. blunders into another unnecessary war. The insightful and realistic story line builds to a somewhat predictable ending but is well crafted and written.

Googled: The End of the World As We Know It by Ken Auletta uses Google as a stand-in for the digital revolution and takes readers inside the firm’s closed-door meetings and paints portraits of Google's notoriously private founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Auletta shares the "secret sauce" of Google's success, and shows why the worlds of "new" and "old" media often communicate as if residents of different planets. With the operating principle of “Don’t do evil,” Google engineers assume that the old ways of doing things can be improved and made more efficient. The firm is poised to become the world's first $100 billion media company and has been a positive, yet disruptive influence in many areas. Yet, it faces internal threats, from its burgeoning size to losing focus to hubris. An important book that gets a little tedious in the middle.

*The Audacity to Win by David Plouffe, the skillful campaign manager of Barack Obama's 2008 historic campaign is described by one reviewer as “essentially a bound sheaf of press releases.” The NYT thought it provided “a visceral sense of the campaign from an insider's point of view...(with) acute assessments of the larger dynamics at play in the 2008 race.” Plouffe is obviously a genius campaign manager, a decent writer, and honest about missteps that the Obama campaign made. I agree with the Miami Herald that it is an "engaging, detailed and frequently illuminating account of the Obama presidential campaign..."

*Noah’s Compass by Anne Tyler, like her previous books is about an unexceptional man of modest means and limited ambition. At age 60, he's been fired from a teaching job that was already below his academic training and original expectations. An unsentimental survivor of two failed marriages and the emotionally detached father of three grown daughters, Liam life is jolted after he's attacked in his new apartment and loses all memory of the experience. His search to recover the lost hours leads to an uneasy exploration of his disappointing life and an unlikely new relationship with “a socially inept walking fashion disaster who is half his age.” Tyler has an understated ability create empathy with this flawed but decent man. Readers will “marvel at how this low-key, plainspoken novelist achieves miracles of insight and understanding.”

An Alchemy of Mind: The Marvel and Mystery of the Brain by Diane Ackerman is about the "crowded chemistry lab. " Ackerman grounds the scientific information with her own poetic experience of discovery. “The common thread she spies running through the tangible world of the evolving brain and the intangible world of emotion and memory is the ‘sleight of mind’ that provides us with a self-identity through which we experience the world in a unified yet complexly fragmented way.” Even brain buffs used to a more detached approach are likely to be won over by her uniquely personal perspective. Chapters on topics such as consciousness, language and the mental differences between the sexes help you keep up with brain research news without wading through the scientific jargon.

Fugitive is Phillip Margolin’ is fourth thriller to feature Portland, Oregon lawyer Amanda Jaffe who can't turn down the opportunity to defend Charlie Marsh, aka Guru Gabriel Sun. Marsh was a prisoner whose freedom came when he saved the life of a guard during a riot. He became a guru and published The Light Within, in which he spoke of how to achieve personal transformation. Marsh fled the country in 1997 after being accused of murdering Congressman Arnold Pope Jr., and has spent 12 years in the African country of Batanga under the protection of its “benevolent ruler”, whose threat to kill Marsh for sleeping with his favorite wife prompts a return to the U.S. to stand trial. Add Pope's revenge-seeking father, several homicidal maniacs and the evil head of the Batanga secret service, and you've got an above average plot in an engaging quick read.

*Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen by Susan Gregg Gilmore is a charming “coming of age” Southern novel in the tradition of Fannie Flagg. It’s the early 1970s, and Catherine Grace Cline is the quick-witted daughter of Ringgold’s third-generation Baptist preacher, who is dying to escape her small-town life. Every Saturday, she sits at the Dairy Queen, eating Dilly Bars and plots her getaway to Atlanta. At 18, she packs her bags, leaving her family and the boy she loves to claim the life she’s always imagined. But before things have even begun to get off the ground in Atlanta, tragedy brings Catherine Grace back home where a series of extraordinary events alter her perspective–and she begins to wonder where her place in the world may actually be. “Intelligent, charming, and utterly readable, Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen marks the debut of a talented new literary voice.”

*A Happy Marriage by Rafel Yglesias is brutally honest in this deeply personal account of his thorny, but ultimately loving, marriage. He tells the parallel stories of the beginning and the end of this relationship "in something of a tour de force of novelistic architecture" (New York Times), which strikes a fine balance between the heady excitement of budding romance and the agonizing loss of enduring love. Though the story line may seem predictable at first, Yglesias throws in enough twists, surprises, and emotional urgency to keep readers turning the pages, and his fully realized—if not always likeable—characters are wholly convincing. A "profound deliberation on the nature of love, marriage, and the process of dying" (New York Times), this visceral, poignant novel will break your heart.

The Department of Mad Scientists: How DARPA Is Remaking Our World, from the Internet to Artificial Limbs by Michael Belfiore tells how the surprise launch of the world's first artificial satellite, Sputnik lead to the establishment of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. DARPA's mission was to prevent future technological surprises and to stimulate its own world-changing technologies. Early achievements included contributions to NASA, missile technology, the Internet and the Global Positioning System. More recent projects have included electroprostheses, remote robotic surgery, driverless vehicles, battery technology, alternative energy and hypersonic flight. The writing is accessible, even for scientific dunces, but has a few too many ‘chatty asides.’

The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford describes, a Chinese-American in Seattle who has just lost his wife to cancer. The narrative shifts between 1986 and the 1940s in a predictable story that chronicles the losses of old age and the confusion of youth. Henry recalls life in Seattle during WWII, when he and his Japanese-American friend, Keiko are “scholarshipping” in an all white school. Keiko and her family are later interned in a camp, and Henry is horrified by America's anti-Japanese hysteria and his father's anti-Japanese sentiment. Henry's adult life and his relationship with his college-age son, Marty are contrasted with Henry's alienation from a father who was determined to Americanize him but maintain a Chinese identify) but seemed contrived. The wartime persecution of Japanese immigrants is presented well, but the narrative is often flat. I still enjoyed the ‘contrived’ ending.

All the Living by C.E. Morgan is a debut novel about a young woman who moves to Kentucky with her bereaved lover in 1984. Aloma, herself an orphan from a young age, leaves her job at the mission school to help her taciturn, brieved boyfriend, Orren, with his family farm. He retreats into himself and working the land, leaving Aloma to wrestle with her desire to pursue her dream of being a concert pianist. Aloma finds work as a pianist at a nearby church was develops a friendship with the preacher that complicates her feelings for Orren, who drags his feet on marriage. Her growing understanding of love and devotion in the midst of deep despair is lyrically, and Morgan’s prose captures the local dialect beautifully. The writing is insightful, eloquent and positively reviewed, but never quite clarifies why, other than great sex, an aspiring concert musician would give up on her dream for a moody, distant, almost literate lover.

Born to Run by James Grippando is a better than average thriller. In this latest Jack Swyteck story, the vice president dies during an alligator hunt in the Everglades, and Jack's father, the former governor of Florida, is picked to fill the vacant v-p slot. Jack goes to Washington as his Dad’s legal counsel, but soon he is investigating a mystery that could bring down the sitting president. The book's plotting is suspenseful and there is a good sprinkling of diverse characters—not great literature, but a fun read.

Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich is a bleak chronicle about the collapse of a family. Irene is a beautiful, introspective woman struggling to finish her dissertation while raising three children. She is married to Gil, a painter whose reputation is built on a series of now portraits of Irene who has fallen out of love with him and discovers that he's been reading her diary, so she begins a new, hidden, diary and uses her original diary as a tool to manipulate Gil. Erdrich alternates between excerpts from these two diaries and third-person narration to portray, in a disjointed way, the family’s emotional wars. The NY Times thought it was “A portrait of an 'iconic' marriage on its way to dissolution… (with)startlingly original phrasing as well as flashes of blinding lucidity.” I didn’t see it this way, but the NYT is probably more dependable.

*The Man From Beijing by Henning Mankell is reportedly the world’s current best-selling mystery novel. After massacre in a remote Swedish village, Judge Birgitta Roslin comes across diaries from the house of one of the 19 mostly elderly victims kept by an ancestor of Roslin's. The diaries cover his time as a foreman on the building of the U.S. transcontinental railroad. An extended flashback charts the journey of a railroad worker, San, who was kidnapped in China and shipped to America in 1863. After finding evidence linking a mysterious Chinese man to the murders, Roslin travels to Beijing to see if the crime is rooted in the past. Sections of the book range over 150 years and from the building of the railroad and bleak frozen landscape of northern Sweden to modern-day China, London, and Zimbabwe in a compelling, but somewhat disjointed manner.

Super Freakonomics by Economist Stevan Levitt and journalist Stephen Dubner capitalize on their best selling Freakonomics with another effort to make the dismal science go gonzo. For me, there's a disappointing lack substance to the authors' project of applying economics to all of life. Their method is to notice some contrarian statistic (adult seat belts are as effective as child-safety seats in preventing car-crash fatalities in children older than two), turn it into economics by tacking on a perfunctory cost-benefit analysis (seat belts are cheaper and more convenient) and append a libertarian sermonette (governments tend to prefer the costly-and-cumbersome route). “The intellectual content is pretty thin, but it's spiked with the crowd-pleasing provocations.”

Ordinary Thunderstorms by Whitbread-winner, William Boyd (A Good Man in Africa), moves into thriller territory with a fun, fast-paced Hitchcockian wrong-man whodunit. While in London interviewing for a job, Adam Kindred meets immunologist Philip Wang at a restaurant who leaves a folder of papers behind. Adam tries to return them to Wang's flat only to find the man's bloody corpse—and to leave lots of evidence of his visit. Fearful of pursuing police and a persistent hired assassin, and without much thought or logic, Adam flees with Wang's papers and goes underground. Meanwhile, at Wang's pharmaceutical company, there’s a coup brewing to rush to market a potentially dangerous anti-asthma drug. The disparate story lines weave a competently plotted, intelligently written tale of corporate and criminal skullduggery that almost sinks with too many improbable coincidences and stock characters.

Homegrown Democrat by Garrison Keillor, writer-host of NPR's long-running Prairie Home Companion promotes egalitarianism, manifested by good-neighborliness and a social safety net sustained by government, as the bedrock of being a Democrat. The Party goes wrong when it forgets the powerless, and fails to focus on "real consequences in the lives of real people." The real value of the partisan but beautifully written autobiography is the recollection of growing up in a simpler time and place.

*Game Change by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin is the best, by far, of the four books I’ve read about the 2008 campaign—gossipy and informative. “Sarah Palin was serene when chosen for V.P. because it was “God’s plan.” Hillary didn’t know if she could control Bill (duh).”The men get less attention than the women and tend to come off slightly better. “Obama can be conceited and windy; McCain was disengaged to the point of recklessness; Biden talks a lot, and John Edwards is a cheating, egotistical blowhard. But, hey, that’s politics.” The authors worked their “200 sources” well. Many of the book’s events were covered previously, but sometimes, this volume delivers totally behind-the-scenes and genuinely surprising information. I was a campaign junkie, but was surprised that Senators Schumer and Reid (official Hillary supporters) encouraged Obama to seek the presidency and that Palin was initially screened by a Google search for “female Republican officeholders.”

Homegrown Democrat by Garrison Keillor posits that Democrats embrace “the politics of kindness," and he traces his ideology to his kindly aunts and his access to good public education. He reminds readers that “Do-Gooder Democrats” are responsible for positive programs from civil rights to clean air., though he acknowledges, "The great hole in the compact is health care." "The good democrat," he says, “distrusts privilege and power, believes in equality, supports unions, and is individualist.” It vintage Keillor– a marriage of Prairie Home Companion and Air America or a liberal, intelligent Glen Beck, if you can imagine it

*Provenance by Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo describes a ten year art scam that bruised the reputation of museum archives and experts alike. Struggling painter and single father John Myatt advertised copies of famous paintings, but never imagined he'd become a key player in one of Britain's biggest art frauds. Enter John Drewe, who claimed to be a physicist and avid art collector. Soon Drewe was passing off Myatt's work as genuine, including paintings in the style of artists like Giacometti and Ben Nicholson. When buyers expressed concern about the works' provenance, Drewe began falsifying records of ownership, even posing as a benefactor to plant false documents in the archives of London's Tate Gallery. Eventually, suspicious historians and archivists assist Scotland Yard in bringing him to justice. Thoroughly research and elegantly written, Provenance is a blend of thriller and art history course.

A Change in Altitude by Anita Shreve who worked in Kenya as a journalist early in her career, returns with the story of a photojournalist and her doctor husband, whose temporary assignment there goes sour. The trip is a research opportunity for Patrick, but leaves Margaret floundering in colonialist culture shock, feeling like an actor in an old British play. When a climbing trip to Mt. Kenya goes fatally wrong, Margaret’s “guilt” creates tension between the couple. Compound stressors include multiple robberies, adulterous temptations, and Margaret's freelance work for a controversial newspaper. One reviewer thought it was “written in a strangely emotionless third person …stuffed with travelogues and vignettes of privileged expatriate life.” Perhaps not Shreve’s best, but still enjoyable to me.

The Last Child by John Hart is about the aftermath of 12-year-old Alyssa disappearance on her way home in a small North Carolina town. Her twin brother continues to search the town, street by street, even visiting the homes of known sex offenders. The lead cop on Alyssa's case keeps a watchful eye on Johnny and his mother. When a second girl is taken, Johnny is even more determined to find his sister. What he unearths is more sinister than anyone imagined and puts Johnny's own life in danger. “Despite a tendency to dip into melodrama, Hart spins an impressively layered tale of broken families and secrets that can kill.”

True Blue by David Baldacci is a formulaic ‘thriller’ with cardboard characters. It introduces Beth Perry, chief of the DC Metropolitan Police, and her younger sister, Mace, a former police officer was seized by bandits, drugged and taken along on a series of armed robberies. Mace is getting out of prison after a two-year sentence, risks everything to clear her name. The murders of a powerful lawyer and U.S. attorney provide Mace an opportunity to vindicate herself. “While Baldacci draws his characters in bright primary colors, and some of the action reaches comic book proportions, he delivers his usual intricate plotting.”

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